A Near Getaway

Last Saturday, with nothing else on my calendar, I took myself to El Charco del Ingenio, the botanical gardens here in San Miguel de Allende. I took a taxi (fare: 100 pesos), paid the entrance fee (50 pesos), and spent the morning wandering around this glorious nature preserve by myself, snapping dozens of photos, stopping to do a quick watercolor sketch, and paying attention to nature in a way I’d never quite done before when I’ve hiked there with a friend.

Sometimes we just need to get away — don’t you agree? – and be alone with nature, in all her awe-inspiring glory. Sometimes the news of the mess we humans are making of this world gets depressing — don’t you think?  “There are moments,” Thoreau said, “when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.”

It’s really nice to know we can still turn to nature for some solace. And El Charco, this peaceful, grand getaway nestled in a breathtaking canyon, is so near to us in SMA — only minutes from el centro.

So there we were last Saturday – just me and the millions of honeybees humming and buzzing around in the tall acacia trees’ bright yellow flowers, and the tiny translucent fish swimming in the grand greenhouse‘s narrow winding pond, and the graceful egrets feeding in the reservoir’s then-shallow waters. Yes, there were a handful of humans too, whom I passed on the winding, well-kept, well-delineated pathways; but we were all quiet and respectful of our serene surroundings.

If you look closely, you’ll see the bees
The grand greenhouse
Egrets — from a distance
Along the well-kept pathway

The sky was blue, the temperature mild, the air fresh, and the time was, well, timeless. This canyon, it seems, has been here since the beginning of time and used by the local indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

I noticed, for the first time, that one of the ruins on the pathway is that of a water mill dating from the late 16th century. According to the nearby signage, “… Water spilled from the aqueduct, spinning a vertical wooden wheel with its axis on a stone base, thus creating energy” for milling seeds and treating wool at the textile factories during the Spanish rule.

Remnants of the water mill

Another fascinating item I’ve always sailed by without really noticing whenever I’ve visited El Charco with a friend (we’d be too busy talking and catching up on each other’s news), is the deep, dark Pool of El Chan at the bottom of the canyon. El Chan, according to a centuries-old legend, is “a mythic being from the underworld” who dwells in these mysterious waters and “likes to show its terrible power to those daring to approach it.”

The deep pool is the darkest area on the right

Well, moving right along…

I paid closer attention than ever before to El Charco’s extensive collection of cacti and other succulent plants, many of which, I learned, are in danger of extinction.

An area filled with “rescued plants”
The fruit of this type of cactus, known as “tunas” here  and “prickly pear” elsewhere, is a popular, edible treat

At the water’s edge I stopped to sketch the reservoir, which was, alas, still low on water. Perhaps by now, though, after more recent heavy rains, the reservoir is fuller, wetter, and bluer. If you’re in SMA, you must go and see for yourself – and, while you’re there, restore your soul, as I did last Saturday.

My quick watercolor sketch of the reservoir at El Charco last Saturday

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